My brothers and sisters, at the conclusion of Mass we will pray the prayer after communion:
As we adore you, O God, who alone are holy and wonderful in all your saints, we
implore your grace, so that, coming to perfect holiness in the fullness of your love,
we may pass from this pilgrim table to the banquet of our heavenly homeland.
Through Christ our Lord.
We are asking God’s grace to lead us from this “pilgrim table” – this place of being fed, but still on the journey home, to the ‘banquet of our heavenly homeland” – that place where all desires of the human heart are fulfilled, and the great feast of divine love is shared with the Trinity by the communion of Saints.
Notice in this prayer the intentional reference to our body-liness. “Table” and “Banquet” imply food, eating, hunger, desire, communion – and refers us to the theological truth of the Resurrection being a bodily experience. Consider existing in the heavenly perfection of our being, soul AND body. Is this not what St. John points us to when in the second reading we heard, “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” Can you even begin to imagine the reality of perfect existence? Easy…right?
Wrong. To try and wrap our darkened intellect around the reality of our perfect existence in heaven would be akin to trying to bite a wall. It is difficult because from our experience, we are so aware of imperfection around us and within us. How could I possibly be perfect? How could someone who struggles like I do be brought to perfect holiness? To be honest, in light of our call to perfection in Christ’s love, there exists a temptation to discouragement and hopelessness. However, in knowing our struggles and sharing in our nature, God knew how we would be tempted and thus inscribed in us the great sign of hope for heaven in the language of our bodies! In the human struggle with sin God codified our hope in our bodies by creating us male and female. In the complimentarity between man and woman, the message of salvation is seen in the language of communion that our bodies speak. The spousal language of the body reveals that the human person is created to be a gift ‘for’ the other, and the definitive revelation of this language was spoken in word at the last supper and enfleshed upon the cross, “This is my body, given for you.” “This perennial language of the body bears within itself the whole richness and depth of the Mystery: first of creation, then of redemption” (TOB 105:4).
The human body is a great sign of hope! How do our bodies proclaim the mystery of redemption? Let us look to Jesus in the incarnation, who reveals through his flesh the call of man to perfection. In every action, work, and thought, our Lord displayed what perfect humanity looks like. For example, in the agony of the garden as Jesus considered what the loving will of the Father would cost Him, he felt the burden in His humanity yet remained perfectly obedient to the Father’s will, “My Father if it is possible let this cup pass from me, yet, not as I will, but what you will” (Mat 26:39). Or in chapter 9 of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus heals a paralyzed man, suffered the ridicule of the scribes, called a publicly known sinner to follow him and had dinner at his house with his friends (St. Matthew), heals a woman suffering 12 years with hemorrhages, raises Jairus’ daughter from the dead, cures 2 blind men, heals a demoniac, and Matthew says that “He went around to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the Kingdom, and curing every illness and disease.” On top of all this, as the crowds that followed him grew in number, instead of getting impatient or frustrated with them, we was moved to greater mercy and compassion because they were like sheep without a shepherd. Then in the resurrection, Jesus in his risen body manifests the mystery of redemption – that the very marks of his body that were once the sign of his destruction were transformed by divine love into the marks of his triumphant victory. In every way, Jesus manifests in his actions what human life and human relationships look like when divine love is their governing principle. Simply put: Jesus shows us what the divine quality of self-gift for the other looks like.
All the saints we venerate today manifest through their bodies this great mystery: creation and redemption. They too were formed in the womb, and throughout the course of their lives they continued to allow divine love to transform them more and more, so that through their lives we glimpse the mystery of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. St. Bernadette once said, “Don’t show me the great miracles of the saints, but let me hear how they struggled for holiness.” In the lives of the saints, it is through those struggles we see clearly the victory of Christ’s divine love. Take for example the classic struggle for purity exemplified in the life and conversion of St. Augustine:
But I, miserable young man, supremely miserable even in the very outset of my youth,
had entreated chastity of You, and said, Grant me chastity and continency, but not yet.
For I was afraid lest You should hear me soon and soon deliver me from the disease
of concupiscence, which I desired to have satisfied rather than extinguished.
~ Confessions, XIII, Chapter 7, 17.
Here is young Augustine and his mind being drawn to the beauty of the truth, yet the struggle of ordering his desire according to that truth. By the end of his life as a Bishop, he was a champion of chastity and we benefit in reading of his struggle and the victory of Christ’s divine love at work in him. For if divine love can order Augustine’s struggles with sin to virtue, why couldn’t divine love accomplish that same work in each of us if we allow it?
“In his everyday life, man must draw from the mystery of the redemption of the body the inspiration and strength to overcome the evil that is dormant in him” (TOB 86:6-7). The saints fixed their gaze upon the body of Christ, and drew from it the hope to continue fighting through this world on pilgrimage, the hope that led them from this pilgrim table to the banquet of the heavenly homeland.
Fr. Jon Schnobrich was ordained a priest for the diocese of Burlington, Vermont in 2007. He resides in Burlington where he is the Director of Vocations for the Diocese of Burlington. He has attended four courses with the Institute as a student and as a chaplain. Fr. Jon was a contributing writer to the “Theology of the Body and Priestly Prayer” curriculum.